Learn how to plant, save, grow and eat beans!

May 15, 2020

From its origins as a wild vine in Central and South America to the thousands of varieties grown around the world today, beans have evolved to be one of the world’s most important crops. Learn how to plant, save, grow and eat beans!

For new and longtime gardeners alike, growing food can feel daunting – but it doesn’t have to! If you sign up for it, we’ll help you get delicious results by sending you regular tips and tricks to help you out in the garden. From when to plant, to how to save the bean seeds, we’ll be with you every step of the way, all summer long!

So you have a packet of bean seeds – now what?

How to plant your beans

Plant your seeds outdoors anytime after the last spring frost, approximately 1.5 centimetres deep and 20 centimetres apart. You can repeatedly plant and harvest beans throughout the summer.

(Note: Did you pick up a packet of bean seeds from a SeedChange booth at an event? These easy instructions will apply to any bean you received from us, including Dragon Tongue, Royal Burgundy and Blue Jay beans.)

How to save your bean seeds

Choose a few of your best looking bean pods DON’T eat them! Let them stay on the bush/vine until they are dry and brown. The beans will rattle in the pods once they are fully dry and ready to be stored. If your area is too humid or the weather is too wet for them to dry outdoors, cut the whole plant or pull it up by the roots and hang it upside down indoors in a well ventilated area. Again, allow them to dry until the seeds rattle in the pods when you shake them.

Crack the dry pods open, remove the seeds, and store them in an envelope in a dark, dry, cool place.

Don’t forget to write the variety’s name and the year on your envelope! Bean seeds can usually be saved for up to three to five years before being planted again.

Bean terminology

Fresh bean pods

Fresh bean pods, snap or string beans are what many people think of when they think of beans. Some people call them green beans but they can actually come in a diversity of colours, not just green! Fresh beans are incredibly versatile and can be eaten raw, steamed, roasted or grilled. They are usually eaten fresh during the growing season but can be saved for the winter by freezing, canning or pickling the pods.

Dry bean seeds

Dried beans are the dried seeds of the bean pod left on the plant long enough to reach full maturity. When fully mature, bean seeds will rattle inside the pods and can then be removed, dried, saved and stored, making them an excellent winter food. Because they are dried they require reconstituting with water and longer cooking times before eating but provide an excellent source of protein in stews, soups and classic baked bean dishes.

Bean fun fact

The name ‘string bean’ refers to the fibrous stringy strands that were once common along the pods of most beans, a feature that has now been bred out of most modern varieties. ‘Strings’ will usually only be present when a bean is overripe.

As members of the legume plant family, beans have the amazing ability to draw nitrogen from the air and add it to the soil. In this way, beans don’t just grow nutritious, delicious food (scroll down for some delightful recipes), they help to enrich the soil in which they grow.

Bean recipes

Dan Jason, owner of Salt Spring Seeds is one of Canada’s best known organic seed farmers. He has long advocated for Canadians to grow and eat more pulses (beans, peas, chickpeas, favas and lentils). His book, The Power of Pulses, provides tips for gardeners wishing to grow and save their own pulses as well as a collection of delicious and creative recipes. The following two recipes, one for fresh beans and one for dried, were provided with kind permission by Dan. Enjoy!

Maple-baked northern beans

Serves six

Whether you enjoy them on their own, with creamy polenta or piled on toast beneath a runny egg, baked beans are nourishing and comforting. For a quick and hearty breakfast, prepare a day ahead and reheat in the oven.

1 medium yellow onion
4 whole cloves
2 ½ cups (600 mL) dry navy beans, soaked in water overnight
6 tbsp (90mL) maple syrup
¼ cup (60mL) unsulphured molasses
2 tsp (10 mL) dry mustard powder
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp (30 mL) tomato paste
2 tsp (10 mL) Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp baking soda
4 cups (1L) boiling water
1 tbsp (15 mL) apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste.

Preheat oven to 250F (121C).

Peel the onion, trim its ends and stud it with the cloves.

To cook in the oven, place onion in a four-quart (16 cup/3.8 L) Dutch oven along with all other ingredients except for vinegar, salt and pepper. Cover pot and place in the oven. Lifting the lid and stirring occasionally, cook the beans for six to seven hours, until they are tender and the liquid has reduced to a thick glaze.

To cook in a slow cooker, boil beans in a medium pot for 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and add to slow cooker along with all other ingredients except for vinegar, salt and pepper. Cook on low for six hours, or until they are tender and the liquid has reduced to a thick glaze.

Add vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove onion and serve.

Quick pickled bean

Makes 1 lb (455 g) of pickled beans

Whether you toss one in a Caesar or pile a few on a cheese board, there’s nothing like the vinegary snap of a pickled bean.

1 lb (455 g) green beans, stems removed
1 ½ cups (350 mL) water
1 ¼ cups (300 mL) white wine vinegar
4 tbs (60 mL) sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) pickling salt
2 tsp (10 mL) mustard seeds
¼ tsp (1 mL) red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, sliced
4 sprigs dill

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Add green beans to boiling water and cook until al dente, about two minutes.

Drain and immediately plunge into ice water. Once completely cool, drain.

In a small saucepan, bring water, vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes and garlic to a boil. Remove from heat and stir to ensure sugar has dissolved. Cool completely.

Stand blanched beans in mason jars and add dill sprigs. Fill jars with cooled pickling liquid and allow to infuse for a minimum of six hours before eating: the flavour will become stronger over time. Will keep in the fridge for two weeks.

No-fuss bean vinaigrette

2 lbs favourite snap bean
2 tbsp oil of your choice
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt, pepper, herbs to taste

For additional flavour add chopped roasted nuts, seeds, Parmesan or feta cheese.

Ask your farmer how best to prepare the beans, as varieties may have different cooking times. Trim the stems of beans. Boil for approx. four minutes, drain and cool them before tossing with the vinaigrette and any additional ingredients.